The writer was UK ambassador to Washington, NATO and Israel and is a director of Gatehouse Advisory Partners. Jonathan Powell, chief of staff to Tony Blair from 1995 to 2007, also contributed to this article.
We were promised an amicable Brexit. Boris Johnson said that while the UK might be leaving the EU, we would still be a positive part of Europe. Instead we risk a series of cross-channel crises turning into permanent confrontation.
But there is a model for better relations right under our noses. After a decade of strain between France and Italy, President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Mario Draghi recently signed a new bilateral treaty undertaking to co-operate closely on a range of issues. We should sit down with the French and do the same, while setting up a new systematic structure of consultation with the EU as a whole.
But first we have to stop pretending that the Indo-Pacific region is more important than Europe to the UK. The integrated review of defence and security policy published earlier this year argues that Britain should pivot to the Indo-Pacific in recognition of China’s emergence as an increasingly dominant great power, and in response to the growing importance of Asia economically. We should certainly take account of these new realities, but our engagement in Asia is not a substitute for defence co-operation in Europe.
Nor does it change geography. China is some 5,000 miles from Britain; France is 20. The immediate threat to the UK and its European neighbours is from Russia, which has murdered people on British soil and seeks to undermine western cohesion in both NATO and the EU.
If we are serious about making “Global Britain” more than an empty slogan, we cannot pretend that we are an Indo-Pacific power while ignoring the continent to which we belong. It is not a question of choosing either Asia or Europe; we must choose both.
We need to defuse the war of megaphone diplomacy with our neighbours and try to restore trust.
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